Authors: Gemma Weekes
A first love shouldn't bloom so fierce, you know? It shouldn't be like a fist forever clutched around the heart muscle ... I didn't realise how bad I had it until he reappeared ...
Singer-poet Gemma Weekes turns to prose with this dazzling first novel about love, set between London and New York one hot, sticky summer. Eden is locked in a state of mid-twenties adolescence â directionless, insecure and hopelessly obsessed with her first love. When Zed, the object of her affection, swoops into town, âflash in every line of his body', spitting gangster rap and the most beautiful boy she's ever seen, she knows she must have him back. Paralysed by lust, Eden hangs out at Zed's gigs, squeezes into mini dresses and drops as many hints as a girl can without losing her dignity, but with no result. Zed's more interested in Max â a blonde with perfect bone structure and as white as toothpaste. But is Max the real reason these two can't get it together? As the story unfolds, glimpses of their St Lucian relatives and parents reveal that Eden and Zed have some serious history they need to face if they're ever to understand what real love is.
Gemma Weekes has a way with language that puts all the music, sweat, colour and raw emotion of a city night directly on to the page. Her dialogue fizzes with the spoken word, her character are intensely real. From Eden's Bible-bashing father to her mystical Aunt K and her rocker boyfriend Spanish, who smoulders with Black Pride, from Hackney to Brooklyn, Weekes brings to life a world of cross-cultural relationships, passion and pain that zings with life and reveals her to be a major new talent.
Born in the East End of London in 1978, Gemma Weekes has lived in England and St Lucia. She had her first short story published when she was seventeen and has since made a name for herself as a poet, short story writer and musician, performing her vocals under the name of Goldyroxx.
THERE HE IS
There â twinkling like a silver coin amongst the coppers.
He hurts brighter than a punch in the face.
What a meal. What a drug. God help me. He's drawn me out like a crack dealer attracts stinking, wild-eyed cats. I'm squeezed blue by love, sweating like a runner, breath shallow, chest a cave full of bats.
It's one of those humid summer nights in London, coloured red with pollution and overflowing with weekend drunks. Neon is loud on the pavement. Girls are out in their strappy clothes and tight shoes and the boys are hair-gelled and over-boozed, yelling up and down the street in their âlook-at-me' tribes. And I wish I loved one of those simple, random boys. A tumble like that would be easy to undo, not like this thing with Zed which is all soaked into the bone and getting rid of it is like trying to scrub off a mud stain with soot.
Look at him. A deep swagger of a man; perfect skin, classic jaw, rocking a letter âZ' tattoo on his left bicep. He's across the road talking on his mobile, smoking a cigarette in that sly way he does everything. Zed. That's what he calls himself and I wonder who he's talking to 'cause lately he lets my calls go to the beep.
And a first love shouldn't bloom so fierce, you know? It shouldn't be like a fist forever clutched around the heart muscle. You should be able to laugh at pictures of him, only
bring him up in conversation as a marker of how far you've come. You should be able to say to your friends without a single twinge:
âIf we met now, he wouldn't even get a
, you get me?'
He'd be too stupid, ugly, smelly, skinny, fat . . . whatever it is you wouldn't settle for as a grown-ass woman with standards. Ten years it's been and a first love shouldn't clot the soul. I don't think I even realised how bad I had it until he reappeared.
IT WAS AROUND
the time the trees regained their spring mojo. Zed sent me an email and I was lightning-struck. He'd been scarce for years and all of a sudden he was saying the unimaginable:
, he wrote in royal blue, Times New Roman.
What's good Brit girl? I've decided to quit sunny Atlanta and come out to London
I read that line twice.
. I read it three times. He decided
My crew ain't taking me nowhere right now and I don't think I'm even feeling our material. Plus my mom's leaning on me to suit up and go corporate, the banshee. As you probably know, that's never gonna happen. So I'm swinging over to the UK next week for a while to work on some tracks with this producer called King Scratch â you know him?
I didn't. I couldn't move, my fingers sweaty on the keys.
Anyway, type back at me when you get the chance, let me know your location and movements. See you next week.
He dropped those words like we saw each other on the regular, like it hadn't been almost ten years since his face. I blinked at the screen and re-read. I'd long thought of my world as being dull and impenetrable, the kick of college a distant memory, just the daily subterranean commute, and the boredom; and the rain and market research job and the odd half-arsed affair. Galaxies away from New York and my teenaged summer of love. I was certain that nothing short of sorcery would break me out.
But there I was the following Wednesday, standing tense and disbelieving in Arrivals at Heathrow Airport, wondering if I'd still recognise him or if he would have shrunk the way places you visited back in childhood always do.
Instead, he'd done the opposite.
Oh. Oh. Oh. My heart stuttered. He'd gone superhero on me. Muscled, opaque, so
. And all his hair was shaved right off, all the lovely cornrows. Something like a monster truck ploughed into me, a near-lethal concoction of old love and new lust. My own pitiful muscles coiled up all over, tight and achy as if yoga had never been invented. It was so good to see him I wished immediately that he hadn't come.
âWow,' he said when he reached me, eyes grazing my steep curves. âAll grown up, huh?'
My cheek-kiss was awkward. I tried to take his bag and he laughed. I couldn't believe how white his teeth were, how rich his skin. I couldn't remember what I'd been doing since the time I saw him last. A blank decade yawned open behind me.
We sat knee-to-knee on the train into central London. Me stunned, him chatting companionably about this and that, skirting the big lessons, keeping it light. I stared at all his changes, the confidence that had settled down easy into his stance and carriage, filling in all the cracks and wiping any trace of fragility. I was dumb with admiration and grief.
Now, three months and infinite daydreams later, he leans against the wall of the club. Looks at his watch, scratches his face. I'm gonna just tell him straight out:
Zed, let's stop playing stupid games and . . .
Who the fuck is the mystery blonde?
I'm stopped short, paralysed on the lip of the kerb. All I can see in the evening dim is miles of yellow hair and two white arms wrapped around Zed like a creeper and I think I'm going to vomit. He's laughing at something she said. It chafes me. I want to make him laugh like that, make his cheeks dimple and his eyes narrow. He glances across the street but fails to see me, probably because Blondie's in the way.
I rushed all the way down here with my heart screaming âI'm late! I'm late!', running for buses and diving for rapidly closing train doors on the choked tube platforms. And all day I've been too nervous to eat and when I've tried, it's gone down like an Irish joke on St Patrick's Day. I've not been feeling very well as a result and I guess that means I'm not being hyperbolical when I conclude that I love him so much he makes me
All that just so he can stand over there with some blonde!
Screw it. I'm going home.
âEDEN!' screams the bimbo and this has to be a joke. It can't be. But it is. Even from here that babyish face and ruined voice are unmistakable. It's bloody
âHey!' She's waving at me like a deranged traffic warden or like I'm hard of hearing. âCome ON, babes! What are you doing?'
And now I can't go home because they've seen me. So I cross the street and am almost run over by this asshole in a BMW who beeps his horn loud enough to shake me from the heart outwards. For a moment everything stops and all I think about is my blood spread thickly on the glittery black road. I imagine what it would be like to be that big, that
, instead of this little human knot of love and scar tissue and I don't want to die exactly but sometimes I just want to escape my skin. Ball it up and throw it in the wash or something. You know?
âYou look fuckin' gorgeous, love!' says Max, pulling me tight in a hug, then giving my mini-dress the once-over. âShe has
! I DON'T believe it!'
âThanks,' I say, dry-mouthed. She takes my hand and leads me over to Zed.
âLook who's 'ere! She almost got run over just for you! That was close innit, Eden?!' she says with a laugh that's like pinching a kid's cheek too hard.
âNot close enough,' I mumble. But she's already screeched off toward her next victim. Somebody kill me please. I test it out in my head.
Zed. Likes. White. Girls.
Who woulda thunk it? Zed having a penchant for mainstream punani? Billboard punani. Men's mag punani. Bony, blonde punani. So that's his thing these days, is it?